Red-headed pharaoh

Ramesses II was the most famous and powerful pharaoh of Egypt’s New Kingdom. And we’re pretty sure that he was a redhead.

Ramesses II
Wolfman12405 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ramesses lived from about 1303 to 1213 BCE, and he did a lot in that time. Conquered Canaan, invaded Nubia, built some amazing temple complexes, had around a hundred kids, died at age 90, got mummified and buried in the Valley of the Kings. His Greek name and history inspired one of the best known poems of the English Romantic period, Shelley’s Ozymandias:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Jumping forward about three thousand years, Ramesses’ mummy was dug up and shipped off to Paris. He even had a passport made for the trip, although that’s another story. It was an exceptionally well preserved corpse, and included skin and hair.

His hair was red. He was ninety years old when he died, so his hair at that time was white and just dyed red. But, in the tradition of older people everywhere, he dyed his hair the colour that it had in youth. Ramesses was a ginger.

Natural redheads are rare but not unheard of in the historical record. Some other notable redheaded leaders:

  • Cleopatra (probably)
  • Queen Elizabeth I of England (definitely)
  • Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarosa (obviously)
  • Richard the Lionheart, also of England
  • Vladimir Lenin (supposedly)
  • Genghis Khan (according to the Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh)

[Thanks to Sue T. for suggesting this topic.]

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